There’s plenty to love about Crete, but one of its coastal towns really warrants your attention. Aghios Nikolaos pokes proudly out to sea atop a rocky outcrop garlanded with beaches, and with our advice to hand you’ll quickly discover just why we rate it so highly.
Meeting the waves
Aghios Nikolaos is named for Greece’s patron saint of sailors and, to this day, it has a remarkably close relationship with the sea. From from the promenade and its colourful collection of shops, sitting side by side in the sun, to the sandy beach of Kitroplatia and the boat-bobbingly endearing marina, there are connections to the water everywhere. Don’t feel left out when you see those vessels cheerily bouncing on the gentle rhythm of the waves though, because boat tours are ready and waiting to take you out to sea for yourself.
A boat trip can afford you a view of the town from the water and a chance to head to the intriguing uninhabited Spinalonga Island. Beckoned by its Venetian hilltop fortress, you’ll land and discover how this unassuming island hosted a thriving community as recently as 1957.
Of course, a dip beneath the sea’s surface is just as scintillating, and the kinds of treasures hidden in the deep are as mysterious as ever. The water, so clear and blue, is pristine enough that you can survey the likes of the submerged ruins of the city of Olous, lost to the depths centuries ago. More recent relics claimed by the tempestuous sea can be found in the sunken reminders of the Second World War, while the reefs and aquatic wildlife speak to the region’s consistent natural beauty.
Historic delights aplenty
Although you’ll find history galore all over Greece, there’s a tremendous allure to the classic elements of Aghios Nikolaos. It’s said that the town was inhabited as far back as the Bronze Age, and that the typically Greek, squared-off buildings that define the town today were built on top of the architecture of old.
Luckily, the progress of Ag Nik, as it’s fondly nicknamed, didn’t eradicate those precious mementos. In fact, you can experience them at the town’s Archaeological Museum, which has become the centrepiece for discoveries from across Crete. All stored here in wondrous detail are Minoan artefacts, remnants of Lato and the Zakros Palace, over 1,500 vases and coins dating to 350 BCE. Sadly, the main exhibits of the museum are closed nowadays for restoration, although the local love of history and culture has seen a temporary exhibit of photographs and choices pieces displayed for the public. Not only that, but the building itself is a gorgeous domed and towered affair well worth a photo or two.
If it’s the stories behind those pieces that grabs your interest though, the exhibits of the nearby Folklore Museum are for you. Here, tapestries and embroidery from bygone days can be found, together with other handicrafts and the tales of the sea. Or you can also experience the history of Aghios Nikolaos up close and personal at archaeological sites like Lato, which dates back to the 4th century BCE, or Gournia, a short drive out of town.
Contemporary and cosmopolitan
With all this talk of history, you could begin to believe that Aghios Nikolaos is a sleepy town of leisurely days and slow nights by the marina. But that’s just one half of what makes this such a great place to holiday, as Aghios Nikolaos is also a hotbed of fashionable young folks and timeless Greek style, as demonstrated in the town’s shopping.
Retail therapy is a popular pastime in Aghios Nikolaos, and it’s a part of local life that thrums all year round. Local artisans have particular renown throughout the Greek islands for their skills and expertise, with their careful hands capable of crafting everything from pottery and tableware to stylish garments and local delicacies. The streets here are very colourful, and the shops range from local artisan outlets and generations-old family businesses to chains and big modern design houses.
As with anywhere else in the Mediterranean, cafe culture is big in Aghios Nikolaos too. Coffee shops are much beloved hubs of socialising while getting the daily jolt of caffeine. They’re called kafeneia in the local lingo, and run the gamut from highbrow, hipster-courting establishments to cosy little street corner affairs. Either way, grab a table outside and you can soak up the sun and watch the town bustle on.
Lively after dark
There’s a great mix of young and old in Aghios Nikolaos, which makes for a blend of traditional and new nightlife. Don’t expect folks to simply settle in for the night here after the working day is done, and your only option after a long day under the hot sun definitely isn’t simply retiring to your hotel room.
If you’re after a true taste of the local evening entertainment, little can beat old school folk music at a rustic taverna, with excellent wine to match. Those family affairs are dotted across town, and their lively music and the laughter of the locals will guide you through the night to their location.
That said, the modern nightlife venues of Aghios Nikolaos promise both laid-back nights under the stars and endless dancing in blazing lights until sunrise, depending on your preference. For the more relaxed approach, a rooftop cocktail at Alexandros Roof Garden or a crisp cool beer with your nearest and dearest at the Friends Bar on the beach is just the ticket. Both of those options promise spectacular views of both the town’s lights and the shimmering waves.
When it’s time for some crazy dance moves though, clubs like Armida come highly recommended, anchored just off the main terra firma of Aghios Nikolaos. With its gleefully gaudy interior lit up by every colour in the spectrum, both Greek and international tunes ring out into the night.
Can’t wait to experience it for yourself? Book a holiday to Aghios Nikolaos today!
Dessole Hermes Hotel
Aghios Nikolaos, Crete, Greek Islands, Greece
Mirabello Hotel and Village
Aghios Nikolaos, Crete, Greek Islands, Greece
Whether you’re visiting Aghios Nikolaos as part of your wider Crete adventures or coming here especially for the cuisine, culture and history, Aghios Nikolaos is an absolute must on any sunny Crete holiday. Let us help you find the finest deals around as you work on slotting this sublime place into your itinerary.